Skin of the Sea review

African mermaids and dragons, mythological odysseys and mortals versus the gods, oh my! In this Skin of the Sea review, I delve into this spectacular book (and what other popular YA fantasy I’d compare it to).

Skin of the Sea review graphic
In case you thought epic mythological adventures only happened in ancient Rome and Greece, Natasha Bowen is here to set the record straight. Bowen throws down the gauntlet with the Yoruba legends-based Skin of the Sea, an action tale of an unwittingly disobedient mermaid who must set things right.
At it’s core, Skin of the Sea is a story of love, sacrifice and forgiveness. It’s also an odyssey full of mythological creatures from Nigeria and beyond. (Note: Bowen’s inspiration is discussed at the end of the book and should not be missed). With the help of humans she can’t fully trust (and one she’s almost instantly drawn to), Simi must seek forgiveness from the supreme deity for interfering in human affairs. Unfortunately for Simi, an embittered trickster-slash-messenger god stands in her way. 
Skin of the Sea cover

This wonderful book has beautiful writing and true heart. Though it’s not for those who prefer a tidy ending (book two can’t come fast enough!), it should be required reading for mythology fans. Anyone who loved Six Crimson Cranes should likewise pick up Skin of the Sea.

My rating:

For more on this author, visit

Review: Ariadne (Saint)

Ariadne, by Jennifer Saint, Review Graphic

Oh, Ariadne. Not quite the hero you were advertised to be, and not forgettable, either. This story is uneven but has the ability to truly move the reader.

That’s because Ariadne the book contains beautiful, emotional prose and some aggravating plot points. This female-centered retelling of the Theseus and the Minotaur Greek myth was not what I expected. If you are also expecting a feminist retelling (as I did from the first few chapters), there are hints of that—often whole segments of it—but Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, two powerless princesses of Crete, never become the heroes of their own tale. This is a retelling sparing of no one, with the unforgiving nature of ancient Greece’s views on women (and perhaps on all women in general) on full display.

Ariadne ultimately portrays a woman who’s content with being a wife and mother—something not often featured in fantasy novels or myth retellings. As a child, she tries to see the human side of her half-bull brother, who becomes an infamous monster, caring for him as her mother did and illustrating her tender nature; yet she’s also willing to help Theseus kill Asterion to save herself. Though she debates about doing it, she acts swiftly when it’s asked of her.

Abandoned on Naxos and fearing both her father and the backlash of her betrayal, Ariadne commits to a life as Bacchus’s “priestess,” securing a safe place for herself. She later shares her home isle of Naxos with women escaping their lot in life, who live in peace on Bacchus’s isle.

Her sister Phaedra, on the other hand, becomes a true stateswoman (by convincing the men of Athens that she’s only sitting in for her husband, Theseus, who’s always off doing “heroic” deeds). She suffers from postpartum depression, which is written with convincing and sensitive detail.

However, Phaedra’s conclusion that she can’t really form an attachment to her sons because they resemble their father waters this down: her depression becomes a product of her hatred for her husband. Her political future goes down the drain when she insists on caring for her firstborn herself, so she can hide that she doesn’t love her baby. This, in turn, isolates her and makes her despair all the more. She’s stretched thin and becomes emotionally brittle, no longer the strong-willed and level-headed girl who wanted to save the tributes from Athens.

The men of the book are greedy, self-centered and often cruel, though nobody’s hands stay clean in the story (then again, it is a Greek myth). I kept rooting for Ariadne to be her own person for longer than a couple chapters, but alas, the origin story was against her. (For a different take, I highly recommend The King Must Die, by Mary Renault.) It can be jarring, though, comparing Ariadne’s moment of action to the rest of the book. By the time she chooses to act again, she’s clearly out of practice.

I wanted more from this book, but at the same time, I’m glad I read it. That’s because of the beautiful writing. The early chapters read like a crash-course in mythology, which can be slow at times, but enforces the message that women always pay the price for men’s deeds or other women’s jealousy. While that may be important to read—and again, Jennifer Saint’s writing!—it can also be trying.

To learn more about this author, visit

Review: The Road to Farringale (English)

This week brings us another funny fantasy from an indie author. It’s time for…

A Review of The Road to Farringale, by Charlotte E. English

Author Charlotte E. English has a sense of humor—there’s no doubt about that. In this quirky and lovable tale of a secret, magical society trying to save magic in the U.K., trolls are the focal point.

Narrator Cordelia Vesper, aka Ves, is a fast-talking, cerulean-haired veteran of the Society for the Preservation and Protection of Magickal Heritage. As an agent of the Society, she is also a resident of the endearingly Hogwarts-like, sentient Yorkshire country manor known as House. With her new partner, Jay Patel, Ves is off on an unrelated errand when she discovers something is very wrong with a troll enclave.

The residents of South Moors Troll Enclave aren’t just “in Recluse,” as many communities are. The trolls living there have become apathetic in the extreme. Worse still, they’re about to eat a pair of endangered alikats, part of a class of creatures that more or less feed off of magical energy. It’s more than against the rules—it’s unthinkable.

The famous Cordelia Vesper

Narrator Ves is fast-talking, quirky and has a “vast knowledge of magickal history. Specialised knowledge of ancient spells, beasts and artefacts. No insignificant skill with charms” and “Great hair.”

As Jay and Ves visit more of the reclusive enclaves, a pattern emerges—including the complete disappearance of once-thriving communities of trolls.

The trolls of The Road to Farringale aren’t what you’re imagining (the Harry Potter similarities stop here). Though some trolls are more like those in fairy tales and “will eat anything,” most are educated, fastidious and elite gourmets, “Trolls whose delight in beauty, culture and the arts go virtually unrivaled across the world.”

One such troll is Baron Alban, the handsome and famously single representative of the troll court.

When Ves, a perfectly self-possessed (if directionally challenged) agent, meets him, she’s stunned. To Ves, Baron Alban is “the most gorgeous troll I have ever beheld, and I mean gorgeous in the sense of spectacularly handsome. All height and muscle and perfect posture was he, his bulky shoulders encased in a dark blue velvet coat over a silk shirt. He wore a kind of cravat, and an actual top hat lay on the table beside him.” Those kinds of trolls.

Despite his Jane Austen-era styling, Alban is a member of the modern troll court. The original was lost and is permanently sealed away, and is not a little reminiscent of Camelot. Alban, a noble-born George Clooney with a “pleasing jadeish hue,” has secret knowledge Ves needs in order to solve the mystery of the apparent illness destroying troll enclaves around Britain.

With her is the aforementioned Jay Patel, the overwhelmed newbie who, unlike Ves, can “find [his] way out of a bucket.” Recruited for his rare ability to travel point to point at dizzying (read: nauseating) speed, we know little about Jay other than that he is the frazzled foil to the self-assured Ves. He still manages to be lovable, in the way that only disheveled characters, who mirror the readers’ disbelief at every madcap turn in the story, can be.

That leads me to what’s missing from this charming story, which moves at the speed Ves talks. There are a host of amusing, interesting side-characters, who get almost equal backstory to the central characters.

I would’ve liked to learn more about Ves’s backstory, what drove her into the field besides her passion for saving magick and what her family and upbringing was like. I wanted to learn more about Jay, too and see him in the quiet moments when he isn’t slumped over beside an empty vat of hot chocolate—the Jay that exists outside of his job, and the Ves that existed before her all-consuming work. I hope future installments of the series cover this, because it’s a shame not to hear more about where these delightful characters come from.

Magical beasts aplenty

Griffons, Pegasus, trolls and a sentient country mansion round out The Road to Farringale’s enchanting and amusing take on a magical U.K.

It’s still a wonderful ride, dotted with enchanting magical creatures, a disembodied voice known only as Milady, who runs the Society, and little gems like this: “I don’t object to a little villainy, mind,” says Ves. “I only draw the line at a lot.”

In The Road to Farringale, even the magical creatures come in wacky packaging, when Ves produces enchanted syrinx pipes from…ahem…somewhere close to her heart. Questions Jay in his usual disbelief, “You just whistled a quartet of winged unicorns out of your bra?” (“Never underestimate the benefits of a good bra,” Ves quips in reply.)

If this sounds like your kind of book—or if you just need a pleasant, amusing diversion—by all means, pick up The Road to Farringale. Even if you aren’t totally satisfied with the time it devotes to its characters, you’re in for an enjoyable read.

To learn more about this author, visit

The Science of Phoenixes

The Science of Phoenixes

Recently, author Sarah K.L. Wilson (Sting Magic) posed a fun question in her newsletter. With her new series, Phoenix Heart, on the horizon, she made her own list of phoenix pros and cons (quoted with permission):


– they light things up!

– always good for toasting marshmallows!

– can’t keep them dead permanently

– vibrant personalities


– they tend to light things on fire by accident. Oops!

– these night owls are dead during the day – which is tough when you need their help!

– fiercely loyal to their riders, it’s hard to make them care about any other loyalties

– when you’re so beautiful, it’s hard not to look at your reflection in a passing lake.

Ms. Wilson then invited her readers to respond with their own pros and cons.

And that’s when I put my nerd thinking cap on.

I’ll be the first to tell you that, unlike my siblings, I’m not in STEM in any way, shape or form. I did pretty badly at science in school, as a matter of fact. But for whatever reason, science news really clicks for me. If only they could write text books like science articles, the whole subject would’ve made a whole lot more sense to me!

Some time ago, I heard an interview with a prominent figure in the field of neuroscience (I very much wish I could tell you her name), who discussed her theory on nutrition and human intelligence. I realize I’d never thought about the monsters and mythological creatures I read and write about that way: how do they eat, and what does that mean for how they function? Assuming this theory is correct, how creatures eat affects their behavior and abilities a lot.

After reading a recent Time article on why we dream, combined with some prior knowledge about neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change), I also started to think about instinct in monsters and mythological creatures. So, without further ado…

A Scientific Look at the Pros and Cons of Phoenixes

by C.K. Beggan


– Phoenixes always cook their food, and can be persuaded to share.

– No raw meat breath!

The Science: According to a neuroscience theory, cooked food is the key to human intelligence. Cooking makes nutrients more accessible to animals with inefficient digestion (in the case of a phoenix, one can’t fly when it takes hours to digest a simple meal, so digestion must be quick. That means not everything eaten can be broken down and absorbed, which equals fewer nutrients). Cooked food is easier to process and absorb nutrients from, which allows humans to have way more brain function than other animals. It takes a lot of nutrients to keep all our brain activity going, so cooking is key (plus it allows us to eat otherwise poisonous/tough things and increase nutrient sources). Phoenixes are also highly intelligent (of course!) and therefore benefit from cooking food like we do. Their brains would require it!


– Phoenixes are highly adaptable (you’d have to be, to get reborn!).


– They’re vivid, active dreamers. Who wants to be kicked by a flaming bird dreaming about walking somewhere?

– Phoenixes are fairly helpless when reborn.

– Phoenixes may be prone to trauma after difficult or prolonged negative experiences.

The Science (!): Our ability to dream is a direct consequence of how adaptable our brains are (neuroplasticity). Without dreams, the human brain is so adaptable that it would lose space dedicated to sight when we sleep at night/during the long nights of winter when vision is limited. Dreams activate the vision portion of our brain and keep it intact. Animals born with a high degree of instinct, who can function well within hours of birth (e.g. species subject to predators that must be able to run away from day one) don’t have neuroplasticity/adaptability like we do. Therefore, they don’t require dreams like we do, because they won’t lose much by getting some shut eye. Their brains are more fixed. So if phoenixes are adaptable, they must dream like we do.

The consequence of this is that more neuroplasticity also means a period of prolonged danger or a traumatic event changes the brain. This is why humans experience PTSD (and/or effects on sleep, digestion, the immune system, you name it). A brain that adapts to danger helps a being in danger stay alive. Adapting back to safe conditions doesn’t happen quickly or easily, though. This could happen to anyone with an adaptable brain, even to the majestic phoenix!

Another example of this (if you even want one!) is that I was surprised by a spider in my bathroom recently. I am an arachniphobe. My brain considers spiders dangerous, so my fight or flight response was immediately triggered (I chose flight). Now I cannot go into that room without checking for a spider because my brain reminds me that spiders appear in my bathroom (and therefore the bathroom may be dangerous and must be approached with caution). Our brains are so flexible it doesn’t take much to create a new pattern of behavior! (On the other hand, if I saw an alligator in the lake, my brain would remind me to be careful around the lake and I’d be safer for it).

So a phoenix may have some hang ups like this, too. (My sister once worked with an arachniphobic sea lion, so even if your phoenix doesn’t have equal-to-human intelligence, it may refuse to go anywhere near webs and shriek). Therefore…


– Despite being mighty, fire-clad animals, phoenixes can be fearful of tiny creatures and refuse to approach them no matter how much you try! A phoenix frightened of pigeons would be VERY inconvenient.

– Travel delays shall ensue.

Thanks for joining me on this mythological geek-out! If you’re a writer yourself (or just a mythology buff), I hope it encourages you to think of these creatures in a whole new light.



PS: Do you think this should be a series of articles? What mythological creature do you think should be next? Let me know in the comments below!

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow (Moreno-Garcia)

Gods of Jade and Shadow Review

Go on. Get your heart broken by this book. I dare you.

After finding the Mayan God of Death locked in her grandfather’s room, Casiopeia Tun embarks on a modern-ish (a hundred years ago) Odyssey-style quest to return Hun-Kame to power and thwart his usurping twin. Sounds like a romance, right?

Just wait.

Casiopea is not a willing participant in her adventure—although it’s fair to say she’s a dazed one. Trapped in a life of servitude to her harsh uncle and tyrannical (somewhat one-dimensional) cousin, she has dreams of driving a car, swimming in the sea and dancing like in the movies. Nowhere do her dreams include having the life slowly sucked out of her by Hun-Kame. And that’s exactly what will happen until she can help the deposed god reclaim the rest of his body.

Then again, life at home as a servant wasn’t that great, either. Family issues aside, her home region is also extremely religious. Now that she’s been seen leaving it with a man, her reputation is ruined. For Casiopeia, there can be no going home.

Fantasy without borders
Readers eager to read fantasy in non-european settings will be thrilled to delve into this Mexican mythology-based Adventure

With the promise of repayment and the whole thing just being over, Casiopeia bears it stoically even as Hun-Kame asks more and more of her (and her reputation is continually ruined). She flirts, she gets a flapper bob, she slides in amongst revelers in cities she only dreamed of seeing. It’s a wild ride, and she comes fairly close to taking it in stride even as a whole slew of mythological figures and creatures cross her path. Sometimes, though, it’s just too much. As strong as Casiopeia is, she has a vulnerable side and occasionally has to cry—as most of us would after meeting hungry ghosts.

Casiopeia is a dreamer, and though she always wanted more from life, what she really wants isn’t so unreasonable. All she’s ever hope for is to have control of her own fate. Though she’s finally away from home, her unwitting bargain with Hun-Kame means she has to face just how little control she has.

To put another wrench in the works, as Casiopeia begins to come into her own as a young woman, Hun-Kame becomes increasingly human. A theme of the hopefulness of the young—and a youthful romance—begins to take shape.

There isn’t much dawdling in the book, but I did feel as though I’d been on a long journey by the time it was through. For all its somewhat glib adventures, it’s an emotional story, and readers run the gamut alongside its young protagonist. The crisp prose and historical tidbits about each location on Casiopeia’s odyssey also added flavor. I very much enjoyed the writing, and often read the lightly snarky chapter openings aloud to family members, who were mostly willing. But as the story goes on, it becomes more character-driven, particularly as the end of the quest creeps into sight.

Of all the characters in the story, though, it’s Casiopeia and Loray, a demon she encounters, who feel the most real, which is perhaps why they find their way back to each other: they’re the only two who have the depth of character to continue on after so much change and loss. Casiopeia starts out young and hopeful; Loray, a little too wise about the ways of the world and literally trapped. For all Casiopeia stands to gain from her quest, she loses a lot, too—including her hope. It leaves the reader with the same sort of stunned emptiness Casiopeia feels at the end.

After going through so much with her, I wish there had been more to the ending than watching Casiopeia drive out of sight—even if she does seem to be in good company. For all he knows about human kind and the underworld, Loray is still full of a zest for life (and exploration), even if it’s all about simple pleasures. He also proves to be particularly kind.

Want more Mayan Mythology?

The Popol Vuh is filled with foundation myths and can be read for free on google.

The climax of the Gods of Jade and Shadow is heartbreaking, beautiful, and in all, makes it a gorgeous novel with a slightly abrupt ending that will still leave you thinking about it long after—and hurting for its characters. I did wish for a lot more out of the wrap-up section of the book, but was left with a lasting emotional impact from it, a sort of raw open ending that its main character is left with.

Then again, maybe that’s just a sign of good writing and a loveable character. It’s true that, just like Hun-Kame, I would’ve like to stay with Casiopeia a little longer.

To learn more about other titles by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit her blog.